You’ve done your prep work: you have your reusable bags, cash in small bills; you’ve planned which farmers market you want to go to and what time you want to get there. (If you haven’t done these things yet, check out our other Farmers Market article: What to Know Before You Go.)
Now that you’re ready to make the trip, we’ve compiled the top tips from experts to get the most out of your shopping experience. Read on for how to be a pro at farmers market shopping.
Take a lap before you buy
One fantastic thing about farmers markets is you never know what you will find. The peaches by the entrance might be the only peaches in the market, or there may be several booths selling peaches with different qualities. Before you snatch up the first produce you find, take a look around the whole market. Make a mental note of booths you want to return to then once you are aware of everything available, make your game plan.
Go hungry, plan for lunch or samples
Many vendors will offer samples of their produce or products. What better way to sell you delicious goods than letting you taste them! If you go to the market with an appetite, the food will taste better. Studies show when we are hungry, our taste buds are more receptive to flavor. Large farmers markets might have food truck vendors, so plan for lunch as well if your market has these options!
Try new things
Most of us have the usual selection of fruits and veggies we like. But don’t let that stop you from trying something new! In Colorado, we have a broad range of local produce according to Coloradoproduce.org. Just because you’ve never cooked with eggplant doesn’t mean you should shun it. Because the farmers market is full of local harvests, the produce is fresher and more flavorful than what you might find at the store. And take advantage of the samples to step outside your comfort zone.
Ask questions, talk to vendors, build relationships
Unlike the grocery store, the farmers market eliminates the middle man and puts you in touch with the people who nurture and grow the food you eat. Farming is what they do, and they love to share their knowledge! Have a question about how ripe a fruit is? Ask the vendor! Wondering how you might cook with chard? Ask the vendor! Interested in buying a product outside the farmers market? Ask where else the product is sold and how you can get it directly from the farm. These are your neighbors and they are amazing, don’t be afraid to talk to them and build a relationship!
Organic or not organic, the difference might be subtle
One reason people choose to shop at the farmers market is local produce from small farms is typically grown without the pesticides large producers use. This is not always the case, however. Some local farms have organic certification, others use organic practices but do not require certification due to their size. Others still are not organic at all. When in doubt, ask the vendor. You may be able to get a higher quality organic product that is cheaper because it doesn’t have the organic label. For more information on whether organic produce is better than non-organic, see our article: Is Organic Worth the Cost?.
Choose ripeness based on menu
If you have a menu plan or an idea of what you will cook with the produce you find, use it as a guide to the ripeness of the food you buy. For instance, if you know you will use the peaches to make a dessert that night, you want the ripest peaches you can find. If you won’t serve the cantaloupe until the picnic later in the week, however, you want a melon that will last several days. The seller can help you determine the best produce for your needs; don’t hesitate to ask.
Buy stable items first, more perishable items later
There are many items at the farmers market other than produce – baked goods, prepared and preserved sauces and salsas, crafts, and other surprising things. Once you take your lap, pick up the items that will last the longest first. Then pick up your produce last so it will stay fresh before you get it home. Don’t forget to bring your cooler if you will be out for a while before returning home with your goods.
Don’t be afraid of how the produce looks
Some produce may look different when you get it from a farmers market instead of a grocery store. Items like carrots and celery may still have stems and leaves, and that is a good thing! Produce with the greens still attached tend to last longer when stored. Other parts of the plant can be edible, too, so don’t be scared to bring home the whole shebang, greens and all.
Also, you may be able to get good deals on funny shaped produce. People are programmed to look for the best-looking items, but ugly fruits and vegetables are as nutritious and delicious as their handsome counterparts.
Buy in bulk
Once the farmer harvests their produce, they want to sell it. Buying in bulk can help you save money and stock up for the off-months by canning, preserving, or freezing. If you have the time and money to buy in bulk and prepare the extra for winter, you will benefit all year long.
Pick up flowers and local goods
Don’t forget to budget in some extras for yourself and your family. Fresh, local flowers can brighten your home and make you feel great about your day of shopping. Also, be on the lookout for things you want but have a hard time finding. Personally, I’m on the hunt for cute, handmade aprons this year. What gems will YOU find at your local market?